CU President Emeritus Dr. J.
Ralph Noonkester (1924-2012)
served as president of Carey
for 33 years from 1956 until
1989. Dr. Noonkester arrived in 1952,
serving first as a professor of Bible and
dean of the college, and then became
president in 1956. At age 32, Dr.
Noonkester was the youngest college
president in the United States. His
wife, Naomi, was the college registrar
before serving as an active first lady of
the college.
When Dr. Noonkester assumed
the presidency, 374 students were
enrolled, only six buildings stood on
the Hattiesburg campus, and three
degree programs with 20 majors
were offered. During his presidency,
the college greatly expanded. By
the time of his retirement in 1989,
there were 18 buildings on the
Hattiesburg campus and eight on the
Gulfport campus. Enrollment stood
at 1,700 and academic programs
had expanded to 11 degrees and 30
majors. He was also instrumental in
achieving full accreditation for the
college by the Southern Association
of Colleges and Schools, a feat he
accomplished at the end of his second
year as president.
In addition to establishing the
Gulfport campus, Dr. Noonkester
also established the New Orleans
campus with the absorption of the
Mather School of Nursing at Southern
Baptist Hospital. The Gulfport campus,
created from the old Gulf Coast
Military Academy, was destroyed by
Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and has
since been relocated to the Tradition
community in Biloxi.
Dr. Noonkester was also
responsible for the college’s
integration, signing the Civil Rights
Compliance Pledge and thus allowing
Carey to become
the first private
college in
Mississippi to
admit African-
students. This
decision led to
uprisings from
certain socio-
political factions,
but ultimately,
Dr. Noonkester
and William
Carey College
were recognized
as leaders in
the Civil Rights
movement in
the South for the
bold step toward
racial integration.
Born in Flatridge, Va., on June
10, 1924, Dr. Noonkester received
degrees from Marion College,
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,
and the University of Richmond, with
additional study at Harvard University.
He served as minister of education at
First Baptist Church in Charlottesville,
Va., from 1950-1952 before his arrival
at Carey.
He is survived by his wife,
Naomi, and his children, Dr. Myron
the Life of President Emeritus
Dr. J. Ralph Noonkester
| Carey Magazine
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